A young student at a Catholic school recently hung himself. He wrote a suicide note complaining that all the students were bullying him and the teachers did nothing to stop it. In his note, he sounded very sweet and emotionally sensitive. He talked about how the kids used to like him but now they all hated him.
How can we use this incident to try to understand social phenomenon better, and what does it tell us about our search for truth, especially the truth about what is right and what is wrong?
Bullying among 6th grade girls
I witnessed a bullying instance myself, some years ago. I was at a party for sixth grade girls. I knew them all. They were good kids from good families. However, for unknown reasons, they bullied one of their friends. The victim was a pleasant, good-looking girl from a very sociable family. I later talked to some of the perpetrators and they could give no explanation why they chose her to victimize.
For a period of time I just watched the girls at the party to see the raw phenomenon of what was going on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. These sweet girls from good families were like animals. They snarled at the victim, crawled under the table to scratch her, and they made denigrating comments to her. They were torturing her.
It was almost as if they were demonic or reverted back to a lower state of evolution.
The mother of the victim later removed her daughter from the school, and she didn’t express any hostility towards the daughter’s friends or their parents. She just got her daughter out of the situation. Years later, when the bullies were grown up and college educated, they felt remorse for what they had done to this girl, but still had no explanation of their behavior.
Are we all barbarians?
It seemed to me that the mythology of original sin was accurate. Inside most of us, including young girls, there are remnants of a bestial heritage, and this “shadow” must be evolved, that is civilized, by the upbringing in a loving family, a church, a civil community, and/or a good school system.
The antithesis to this idea is that the human being is all-good, and it is only a corrupt society that damages the natural goodness of a child. (This is the theory of anarchism.)
This (anarchistic) antithesis can easily be disproved by observing on how often parents have to indoctrinate their children to be considerate of others. It’s not natural to think of others. Freud once said that a baby would destroy the earth if she could.
An antithesis to the idea that “children need to be civilized” is the idea that “a family doesn’t need an authentic father: men are useless in the upbringing of children.” Nor is a loving, dedicated, and responsible mother really needed. If a child is deprived of a loving, responsible parents, then the government has the responsibility of helping to raise the child. The child has the right to all government programs, including pre-school, counseling, and special education.
The (fallacious) belief is that if the child gets all the programs she is entitled to, then she has the same probability of living a successful life as a child who comes from a family with dedicated and responsible parents. Responsible parents can be replaced by good government programs. Any other idea is racist or against single mothers:
It takes a village to raise a child.
Superior heterosexual boys
A newspaper had a picture of the young boy who hung himself. He seemed to be around 13 years old and looked like an archetypal “pretty boy.” These are boys who have feminine features and who are usually smart, neat, artistic, attractive, sensitive, and cultured. In short, the child might have had genetically gay tendencies and have been a credit to his school, to his family, and to society. He harmed no one.
That he was victimized might be a manifestation of the natural homophobia in almost any culture, especially Christian and Muslim cultures, where homosexuality is considered a sin or a personality disorder. This bullying might be a manifestation of male sexism, where the young straight boys felt superior (against all evidence) because they had more masculine traits, like aggression and toughness.
Gay rights and woman’s rights
If this is the case, it shows the enlightenment of the gay rights movement. This movements is climbing up the mountain of truth, and possibly a new revelation of the Creator of the universe, that people with feminine traits have equal dignity as people with people with masculine traits.
Women are equal to men. Feminine traits are equal to masculine traits.
This is true even though men can usually beat up women — the historical reason for the belief in masculine superiority
(Not that civilizations hasn’t been benefited by masculine traits — an idea that is opposed by some feminists.
Just ask yourself this question: “How have I been benefited in my life — today — from the contributions of men?” Some answers to this question might include: the Christian religion, cars, the printing press, most of our medical advances, all the food we eat, electricity, and the computer.)
In conclusion, perhaps the Creator of the universe has given us another revelation of truth.
As with all ideas (theses), there is always an opposing idea (an antithesis). In this case — where the young boy hung himself — we could blame the cause on the other students, the school, the family, homophobia, or other causes.
There have been a few follow-up articles that looked for other sources of blame (causes).
These articles revealed that the single mother of the student was an alcoholic and she was often drunk. Often, when the mom was in her drunken terror episodes, the son had to hide in the attic with his sister. There were accusations that he was abused at home.
What is truth?
So what really happened? What was the real cause for his despair, where death was better than life. Perhaps we will never really know.
We could have five people doing doctorate dissertations on the whole social phenomenon, and still not come up with definitive answers. And even if we did arrive at conclusive answers, later there would probably be some bright, oppositional writers who would come up with other “definitive” answers.
Perhaps all the psychosocial variables in this psychosocial situation transacted with each other. For example, perhaps the drunken mother caused the boy to be depressed and lack self-esteem. Then the boy could have freely decided to accept this low self-esteem and depressive way of seeing the world, as opposed to finding friends who could affirm him, get counseling, or find other ways to shed some light on his situation. He could have developed a passive personality, which in turn set him up to be a victim of bullying.
Looking at this phenomenon through RG’s dialectical glasses, we can see that, although we will never reach absolute truth, we can come closer and closer to this tentative, authentic truth, through authentic discussions and reasoning.
We could accept the best evidence and the best arguments as supplying us with the highest probability that our conclusions are true, and then we can tentatively believe in these conclusions and act upon them. We can know that our ideas are not absolutely true, but they have the highest probability of being true, given our talent of discerning the truth and the availability of facts and arguments.
However, we can still believe that objective, absolute truth exists out there — somewhere — and we are getting closer and closer to it.
What does this young boy’s tragedy tell us about macro problems?
We can also look at this relatively simple phenomenon — of a young boy committing suicide — and get a insight into more complex human phenomenon, like the Mid-East conflict.
In the Mid-East we can see that there are different players, all with different self-interests. And each party interprets the political situation in ways that maximize their self-interest. Few people want the pure truth — even though all of us know it exists — someplace. Even the journalists may have their bias — that is, they all have axes that they are sharpening. They all have their personal revolutions.
Concerning the young boy, these journalists (and we can throw in professors while we are at it) may have a political lens through which they want to see mystical social phenomenon. For example, a lens could be wanting to blame the school because they are against Catholic education or against private schools.
If the child was African American, perhaps the journalists wouldn’t want to blame the family because they could be accused of being racist.
Certainly the parents don’t want to blame themselves either, and they may even want to cash in on a lawsuit against the school. They could easily find a lawyer who could rationalize all the facts to create a convincing theory, and present it to a jury, that it was all the school’s fault.
Conversely, the school will do everything not to accept blame, and thus avoid a lawsuit. They could rationalize all the facts so that they could blame the family. An expensive lawsuit could close the school, and everyone could lose their jobs.
How do we find truth?
So where does this leave us, us ordinary people who just want to know what is going on? If, in fact, we are interested in pure truth, we can keep and open mind and listen to all the theses and antitheses. Then we can make a decision on what idea has the highest probability of being true.
Then we can accept the reality that we can never know for certain pure reality. But we can get close enough to it to live reasonably successful lives. That is, if we want to be open to pure truth and if we want to decide to live successful lives. To do this, we could:
Be happy and help others.